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Handiwork

photography by Tom Green
art direction by Abigail Schumann

Strong and supple, practiced and sure, the hands of silversmith Gayle Clarke pierce a piece of plate by the magnified light of a water-filled globe lamp.

Strong and supple, practiced and sure, the hands of silversmith Gayle Clarke pierce a piece of plate by the magnified light of a water-filled globe lamp.

Hands hold things, make things, do things, say things. They grasp tools, objects, friends, enemies, and opportunities. We lend a hand, shake hands, hold hands, raise our hands. Sometimes we take matters into our own hands, and sometimes we remember, in the words of the eighteenth century's Isaac Watts, "Satan finds some mischief still, for idle hands to do."

At Colonial Williamsburg, people busy their hands in arts, manufactures, conservation, archaeology, research, and interpretation; in mending, building, planting, harvesting, cooking, and washing. Among other things.

Photographer Tom Green and associate producer Abigail Schumann wandered through the shops and homes of the restored colonial capital studying the work at hand, trying to focus on those hands. Their attention strayed to the tasks those hands were doing. There were strong hands at dirty work, and steady hands pinning a bodice. They found hands carving wood and piercing silver. There were hands sewing, serving, planing, kneading, weaving, filing, and fitting. There were hands covered in flour and soot and sawdust and ink, hands delicately holding teacups, and a baby with her hand in her mouth. Hands going about the business of life in an eighteenth-century Virginia community.

Schumann and Green returned to the studio, summoned models and, with his lighting and lenses and her art direction, recorded what they had seen. The images on these pages are part of what came from their hands.

—Barbara Brown

The flour-sprinkled hands of Gene Mitchell knead dough.

The flour-sprinkled hands of Gene Mitchell knead dough.

The blacksmith-strong hands of Ken Schwarz file a vice-held key forged in his shop.

The blacksmith-strong hands of Ken Schwarz file a vice-held key forged in his shop.

With the delicacy of a gentlewoman, Cathy Hellier offers a guest a fine-china cup of tea and silver spoon.

With the delicacy of a gentlewoman, Cathy Hellier offers a guest a fine-china cup of tea and silver spoon.

Interpreter Robert Watson's fingers shell a dried cob of corn, his fingers prising away the kernels into a wooden bowl.

Interpreter Robert Watson's fingers shell a dried cob of corn, his fingers prising away the kernels into a wooden bowl.

Mantua maker Janea Whitacre takes scissors to the seam of a set of stays.

Mantua maker Janea Whitacre takes scissors to the seam of a set of stays.

Gunsmith George Suiter soots a brass lock with a guttering candle.

Gunsmith George Suiter soots a brass lock with a guttering candle.

Cabinetmaker Mack Headley draws fine furniture details.

Cabinetmaker Mack Headley draws fine furniture details.

Cabinetmaker Mack Headley takes a plane to a board.

Cabinetmaker Mack Headley takes a plane to a board.

Gunsmith George Suiter soots a brass lock with a guttering candle.

Interpreter Hope Smith's gentle
hands guard diaper-clad
Dorothy Simpers.


slideshow
Hands Slideshow

Of interest:
"About Faces," an Autumn 2004 Journal story and slideshow.



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